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The value of a contract

February 15, 2009

Hello again,

I have often touched on the issues that western teachers face when they venture into new cultures to further their careers. Meeting new ways of thinking is...

... unsettling and not everybody is capable of adapting. One of the effects of such an experience is that it often prompts us to re-examine our own values and norms. The matter of a contract falls right into this category of culture clash. For those used to societies in which fairly rigid labour laws are normal, to protect workers from unscrupulous employers and to ensure that employers can expect a proper commitment from their workers, the contract is an essential part of the picture. It gives both sides an unambiguous description of what is to be delivered. But what if you go to a country that does not enshrine such features in its laws? The point is this surely. If you work in highly regulated culture and contracts are part of the legal framework of employment, then you should have one. Any employer trying to avoid issuing a contract must be suspect. But, even so, don’t expect a contract to be a panacea for all employment problems. If your company falls into bankruptcy, for example, your contract may not be worth the paper it is written on. My point is that the future is uncertain no matter how many agreements you have in writing, especially in today’s economic turmoil.

If you work in a country that puts little faith in legalistic procedures, however, then demanding a contract will be pointless. The employer is unlikely to respect it if the norms of employment are very fluid and word-of-mouth. If this means that your working week is subject to constant fluctuations, if job security seems like a dream, if even salary arrangements are flexible, you probably won’t feel comfortable. But having a contract won’t make a shred of difference. In fact it has been voiced that countries like the USA and the UK use contracts as a smokescreen. They are very keen on tightly worded agreements but when it comes to building personal trust and confidence they are weak. In contrast, many other cultures rely more on interpersonal trust and verbal agreements and also expect more flexibility of approach.

With my western background, I feel more comfortable with a contract than without one. But if I want to experience a different culture, I know I have to get out of my comfort zone. It is not easy to see the world from a different perspective, but we have to try to do so when we change our cultural environment. So how would I prepare? First I would gather as much information about the new country as possible using every source available to me. Then I would ask the potential employer about their modus operandi, their expectations of me, their experience of employing westerners. If possible I would try to contact people already working in the school or region to gather their impressions. Armed with this information I ought to be able to decide if the new experience is one I could handle or if it would all be too much for me.

If I had doubts but wanted to give it a try, I would look for a brief posting if possible, just enough to let me test the water. That way I could make a more measured judgment of whether a longer-term commitment would suit me or not.

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  1. Nancy Biasatti Says:

    I'd appreciate any help I could get. I've lost my TESOL Certificate and would like to know how I could obtain another copy. Thank you.

    Nancy Biasatti

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